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Blog | I Am A Mainframer

I am a Mainframer: John Mertic

By | November 23, 2021

In today’s episode of the “I Am A Mainframer” podcast, Steven Dickens sits down with John Mertic, Director of Program Management – Linux Foundation, ASWF, LF AI and Data, LF Energy and Open Mainframe Project. In this podcast, John discusses his journey with the mainframe, advice for those just starting their journey with the Mainframe, and where he sees the Mainframe going in the future.

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Steven Dickens: Hello and welcome. My name’s Steven Dickens and I’m your host for the I’m a Mainframer podcast, bought to the by the Linux Foundation’s Open Mainframe project. I’m looking forward to today’s episode. I’ve got my dear friend and colleague on. Hi John, welcome to the podcast.

John Mertic: Thank you, Steven. After all this time, you finally have got me on the podcast. I’m excited to do it.

Steven Dickens: What is John, now? Is it five years?

John Mertic: Six years.

Steven Dickens: And I’ve finally convinced you to come on the podcast. So, we didn’t do introductions. I’m a terrible host. John Mertic from the Linux Foundation, program director for the Open Mainframe project. John, that’s a great segue into the first question. Tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, your background and what you do for the project.

Yeah, so, my background is just a technologist. I’ve been in open source for two decades. If I wind back the clock, even a long time, I first touched a computer with a TI99 4A and a Tandy 100 and from there and really just sort of developed a love of technology. I was a computer science grad from Penn State and think of this late ’90s, early 2000s; this was when open source was taking off. So it was a great opportunity as I was coming out of school to start leveraging some of those technologies. I was HP developer for a long time, doing a lot of web front end, doing databases in the back end, kind of like a little bit of what we used to call in the old school days, full stack developer. 

And over time, I think the one thing that I really found myself enjoying was just working at open source communities. At SugarCRM, I started going out and presenting on SugarCRM places. A lot of developer conferences and open source conferences. And one day the co-founder came up to me and he’s like, “Hey John, you want to be the community manager since you’ve been doing the job for a year already?” And I said, “Sure, why not? Let’s do that.” That was my transition into community leadership, which I did there for a number of years. And at the same time, I also got to spend some time doing their ISV program and helped sort of rebooting that, which was a transition from there to doing it for a little while.

Then I was able to transition back to my roots in open source. Throughout a lot of time, I’d worked in a bunch of different capacities. I was serving the board of the OW2 Consortium. I served as the president of the Open Social Foundation for some time and then coming back to the Linux Foundation, I had the fortitude of being able to be a part of a number of projects, but then one that was introduced to me by Laura Kempke, was, “Hey John, we have this Open Mainframe project, what do you think of that?” I’m like, “Well, I’ve worked with IBM before, it seems like a lot of fun, let’s try it.” 

And to be honest, of a project that many could have said, hey, this is the afterthought one, it has been one of the ones that I have really had the most personal, I guess, gratification from, in a lot of different ways. Being able to see mentees in Atlanta, young people and their kind of excited faces to get involved in mainframe and whatnot.

And I’ve had the fortune of working across a bunch of industries. Many in the mainframe audience know I’m in the Open Mainframe project but I also work in projects across the motion picture industry, the energy industry and I kind of help in some of our other efforts as well. So, I wear a lot of different hats here, but I’ve really tried to spend a lot of time helping get this project where it needs to go to really be where the mainframe community wants it, as like the center point of open source here.

Steven Dickens: So, don’t worry, John. We’re going to come back to Star Wars and special effects a little bit later.

John Mertic: I figured as much.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, so, don’t worry. I’m not going to let that one go. So, talk to me a little bit. You and I go back from the first time you were involved in the project, so I know this history, but it would be really good to get kind of your perspective. I think you described yourself as a full stack developer. So, let’s kind of use that as the term. You’re a full stack developer, coming into the mainframe space, kind of maybe six years ago. What’s the sort of preconceived ideas, the notions, like this mainframe technology? I may be new to this. There’s some baggage I’m assuming. Talk us through the kind of mindset of the first two or three months as you’re figuring out what this platform’s all about and what the community’s like.

John Mertic: Sure. And for full candidness, there’s a lot of gaps between when I was a good full stack developer and me getting involved in the Open Mainframe project. You don’t want to see much of my code any more. But yeah, it was kind of interesting because, to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d just seen so many different technology areas. I’ve always had appreciation for different architectures. Every day, just seeing what’s unique and what’s different. Like I’ve always had an appreciation for Apple and not necessarily because of what we think of it today, but the power PC and the 6800K Motorola architectures. Like, I find different architectures as very fascinating. 

So, getting into this, I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew this was a technology that was at the cornerstone of really powering so much of the finance industry. As I’ve begun to unpack it, I began to realize really how important it is. Len would tell me, Len Santalucia would tell me, he’s like, John… We would sit down to this and he would say, “John, you know, the cloud can go away, we’d all be inconvenienced and everything but we would live. If the mainframes went away, our civilization would fall apart.” And it sounds kind of funny when you’re saying it in that way, but when you start to break apart of what all of the things a mainframe, what parts of technology infrastructure mainframe’s used for, like credit card processing, transportation, things like that, he’s not wrong. That’s a very, very valid point.

So, yeah, it’s just really, really fascinating. And as I got more into it, I think the technology was sort of one of understanding what it’s all about, the power of these machines. But then I think the other thing that really at first sort of surprised me is there is a bit in this world here where I don’t think folks in the mainframe industry really felt all that appreciated. You would talk to them and they would say, oh, this workload’s going off to Distributed or it’s going off to cloud, we’ve got to stop that. And you start to unpack some of those conversations and what it really started to boil down to was people didn’t realize a lot of the appreciation for things.

I forget who was telling me this. I think Jim Zemlin was telling me this one time where he said I would go to talk to my grandpa who is an old mainframe developer… His grandpa actually took him to the SHARES, the SHARE conference back in the ’60s and ’70s, which I didn’t realize until I think it showed up on an interview somewhere. But he would go talk to his grandpa about gees, this is this cool thing they’re doing, Linux Kernel and this is their cool thing doing this. And his grandpa would just there’s like, “Ah, we did that in mainframe like 30 years ago. That isn’t anything new.”

And it’s funny to say that out loud, but when you think about it, it’s like I can understand why these people don’t feel very appreciated. Like, there’s so much of our competing legacy. And open source legacy, the roots of open source, go back to SHARE in the 1950s of people being, drop this IBM machine on their lap and saying, hey we’ve got to figure out how to use it. And so, these folks get together and share tips and things and that’s your first open source community. So-

Steven Dickens: And I’ve heard you tell that story and I think… I’ve heard you say that, probably hundreds of times on main stages in presentations that you and I have done together. Let’s just double click on that for the listeners for a moment because it’s something I hear you say quickly.

John Mertic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steven Dickens: And we’ve now got some airtime to fill, so let’s fill some airtime. But no, I mean, all joking aside, I think you’ve gone back, and you’ve looked at that community and SHARE in some depth. You’ve done the research, and I think not many people have. 

John Mertic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steven Dickens: So, you went through it quickly there. Can you give us the kind of unpacked version of that and kind of how the SHARE community probably is the first structured open source community way before the Linux Foundation and even its prior incarnations? I think it’d be really interesting for this group and the listeners here to get your perspective on that.

John Mertic: So, really it was, and I’m trying to remember, I would know if it’s the IBM 709? 907? I always forget the machine. An audience member will correct me later. But this was in a room, I believe, in Santa Monica, California? Los Angeles, California? And that group got together and said we got this new machine. And effectively think of it almost as like a user group at that time. I wouldn’t think it as so much as how we would think of it open source community today, but it was really just user groups. These people are coming together, sharing ideas, sharing tips and tricks. 

And this continued. They met, I think in the early days, probably annually, and they probably increased it even more over time, but this was away because again, these were new machines; this was new hardware. This is a whole new paradigm that people just didn’t know too much about. And connecting these people together was the way that this technology began to take off. 

Now, another byproduct is as people were using this technology, they would have code. They would have ways that they did things. They would have all the code snippets. Again, this wouldn’t be something of today where we would go download it from a website or a GitHub or something like that, but it would be on microfiche, probably I don’t know if a punch card—but tooling like that or tapes that it would be existing on. 

So, many of that then started to get collected, and it would get just shared amongst each other, right. Everything was very public domain. There wasn’t any concept of open source licensing. It was just let’s share it. And if you really want to roll back, that also sort of paralleled software in general at the time. I won’t go into the sort of the nuances and depths of some of the legislation that happened in the late ’60s, early ’70s that sort of changed some of that, but if you go back to that period of time, really you bought the hardware, and you got all the software, including the source code for free. That was just all part of the package. And even machines like the original Apple One and things like that, you would get these thick manuals of all of the schematics and programing bits and things like that so you could just start rolling with it. And the mainframe was the exact same way.

So anyway, a lot of this material started to develop, gets shared amongst each other, and the first natural problem starts to happen. Where is kind of a place I could go find it? So, you might say, hey, who had a routine for doing this. And so you all had to ask around the room. Again, you didn’t have an internet chat forum to do it, so you’re probably calling people up or asking a friend of a friend, and so it takes a while to track all this stuff down. And so, right around the time around 1970, a guy named Arnie Casinghino realizes, hey, what if I just pull this together in a collection that we can just share with everybody. And he does that, and it’s a project that CBT tape which-

Steven Dickens: The first GitHub.

John Mertic: The first GitHub and really, if you think about it, the first open source project or one of the first. There’s going to be somebody who’s going to find something different but for the sake of this story, let’s call it the first open source project. CBT by the way, standard for the name of his employer, Connecticut Bank and Trust, which I think is defunct and has been brought by three or four different people. Actually, I heard the name has came back but it’s entirely different. But that’s a whole nother aside. 

But this is effectively that first project. It’s a way that he was pulling all of these pieces together in a conical tape that someone could get and then that way, you had that first GitHub that people could use, people could contribute back to. You could get the tape. Like, sort of he was showing me, Sam Golob, who’s leading the project now was showing me even some of the letters that Arnie would get and one of them was like from the US Postal Service and it had like a couple of bucks in it and said please send me… It wasn’t quite that trite, but that’s how you would get it. You couldn’t download these things from anyone. You had to get a tape. So you would send a couple of dollars to cover postage and the cost of the tape and you’d get the latest release and you’d be able to use all those tools. And that’s how that collaboration began to start.

So, if you think about it, all of the early collaborations, the concepts of collaborations that we think at open source are so automatic, they were pioneered in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s in the mainframe community. Which nobody really talks so much about. Most people they point back to, okay, the Berkeley Labs and some of the free software movement and things like that. But so much of this was pioneered back in the mainframe community. 

Steven Dickens: And that CBT tape is now a project under the open mainframe project structure, isn’t it? So, if you just want to add that final bit of the story for us?

John Mertic: Oh, yeah, yeah. So, this project, like you said, it’s been continuing on for decades and as sort of that group of maintainers was in retirement age, they saw, hey, we want to continue this forward for decades to come and we need sort of the infrastructure and support to do this. And they came to us. And this was actually just about a year ago, a year ago, we’ll we’re recording this in September, so I don’t know the date it will go live, but about a year ago they came to us and said, hey we need a home for this. And we were able to help provide it. We were able to get the mainframe infrastructure and it’s been really interesting. 

I get phone calls from Sam and emails from them, fairly regularly. He’s a really good communicator. He’s so fun to talk to and he’ll just tell me, he’s like, “John, I’m just blown away. We have all sorts of retirees and all sorts of other folks that I’ve never even heard of and they’re coming and adding new tools and things to the tape and this has just been so wonderful and these people have never had access, didn’t know how they’d ever get access to a system and now they do and you all are just doing amazing work.” 

Not that I’m trying to pat the project on the back there, but for us, it was a real special thing that we were able to take that part of the legacy of mainframe and find a path to help continue that forward. You’ve been around a mainframe a while, Steven. I think that’s the one thing you can say is very true is this ecosystem has a strong legacy that people care about.

Steven Dickens: And you’ve heard me say this hundreds of times, I think this community existed before.

John Mertic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steven Dickens: I think what the open mainframe project, for me at least, is just the center of gravity for that community. You’ve been to SHARE multiple times. We’ve had beers and coffees and multiple trips to SHARE over the years. That community in the hall, everybody knows everybody. It’s a sort of real community space. So I think the community existed. And you talked about it perfectly there, they maybe didn’t have the tools for collaboration, the access to infrastructure, the ability to share code seamlessly, the ability for competitors to collaborate on code in the open. I think it was there. It just wasn’t supercharged. And I think that’s what I see as the benefit of the Open Mainframe project, that it’s been able to tap that rich vein of community that was already there and just give it the ability to be supercharged and have a center of gravity.

John Mertic: You’re exactly right. It’s always been there. I mean I think when they look at the concept of saying open source, it’s a bit daunting in some ways to them.

Steven Dickens: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Mertic: I remember, I think we were both there, in St. Louis when Zowe was announced.

Steven Dickens: I remember what I said to that room, yes.

John Mertic: Yes. I remember two things. One on stage and I can’t remember who it was. It might have been Greg . I don’t know, somebody will crack me about this later. But there was a statement made from on stage to the audience saying while we as organizations contributed this initial code and this was Broadcom NCA, IBM Rocket, this is your project, pointing out to the audience. And I remember right afterwards, we went to another session, where it was kind of like a Q&A with some of the first sort of leadership group of Zowe, and I just remember a couple of people standing up and just… I think one person even said the words like, I’m still processing in my brain what this means. 

Steven Dickens: I remember that meeting and somebody asked, what’s the roadmap for this and they were asking the vendors what the roadmap was.

John Mertic: Yeah.

Steven Dickens:  And I remember, I was standing on, I think the right hand side, I’ve got a weird memory like this, I remember where I was in the room, like half way back, standing on the side and I think I just turned to the room and went, you guys own the roadmap, not them on the stage.

John Mertic: Yeah, I remember that. You’re right. Yes. 

Steven Dickens: And the whole room kind of does a double take and goes, what’s that crazy idiot saying on the side of the room. And I had to kind of elaborate the point. It’s like the roadmap is where the community takes this piece of code, not what Rocket, IBM and Broadcom say the roadmap’s going to be.

John Mertic: Right.

Steven Dickens: And I think that was the first time that realization had happened to a room of mainframe people because the vendors, they do a fantastic job and they’ve got some amazing roadmaps and they create some fantastic software and the community wouldn’t exist without their involvement and sponsorship. But something like Zowe as an example, I think it’s been really fascinating for me to watch the mainframe community kind of see a piece of code come from a crowd sourced community where there’s not a vendor dragging it along.

John Mertic:  Mm-hmm.

Steven Dickens: And then put it onto these mission critical machines that, as you say, run the world’s financial systems or airlines or retailers or insurance. I mean, we’ll go there for a moment, Zowe. It’s a huge part of the project. What’s been your sort of experience with Zowe over the last few years?

John Mertic: Zowe is sort of, I think, if you want to paint the picture of the mainframe community at that point in time in 2018 in St. Louis and map them through their journey of recognizing, appreciating and kind of embracing open source, Zowe has sort of been like the bell weather for that in a lot of ways. And it’s been really fascinating. I think in the early days of Zowe, there was the first challenge of how do we bring together, in many senses, different code bases and sort of integrate to one. Not like vastly, vastly different but really things that were driven from different vendors and how do these kind of all fit together. How do we make decisions together? How do we look to get downstream vendors using this?

 Because I mean, if I look at open source project, and again, millions and millions of them out there, all of them are entirely different. And we at the Linux Foundation, we tend to try to focus on the ones that have a large impact on our society in some way or another. And I think Zowe definitely fits very well within that realm, obviously. 

There’s always some sort of characteristics we start to look at. One we look at is like what the vendor diversity is. How many different vendors are involved? And that’s more of just an aspect of if it’s all one vendor and that one vendor decides I’m not going to do this any more, the project kind of falls on its face. If you have three or four or five and not any one is a huge amount of the contributing base, they can leave; it’s going to be uncomfortable. I mean, you lose 20 or 30% of your committers. That’s not something that’s pleasurable. But you have a path that you can still continue.

So, Zowe was set up that way in the early days and I think they kind of went through this really good cycle of wrestling with how do we grow that out and how do we get more vendors in. And now we’ve seen things like Zebra from Infinity and the Workflow WizARD from BMC coming in. And you’ve seen other contributions from a number of other different organizations coming in. And so now we’re starting to see that start to spread out some, which is one really, really positive sign. 

 I think another that I start to look at is governance and leadership. In the early days of this, it was very much ran like a vendor product. And as you’re getting something out of the gate and where the mentality and experience level of that group was, made a ton of sense. But I think after time, they realized, if we’re working in an open source way, we’re working very open, all of our meetings are open, all of our work is transparent, our decision making is transparent and our intention is to get more people involved, but especially people that are going to add technical contributions, we need to make sure this is technologist focused and centric. 

And one of the things that we did earlier this year… Well, they put in place, and these were from discussions that started almost a year before that, was sort of transitioning and ensuring that the technical leads within the projects, as they call it squads, so the different components of Zowe, were actually sort of the ones that were driving the direction of the project. Now, they weren’t completely doing it in a vacuum. They had advisory help from several of the vendors. They really looked to tap into the community and some of the downstream users. 

But it was a really, really interesting opportunity here to shift this into a very technology focus. Because if you think about Zowe, yes it’s huge for z/OS. It’s huge for the mainframe. It’s making amazing inroads. It’s putting mainframe on the map for devops. It’s going a lot of great pieces in there. But if you look at sort of those other technologies that are moving at that same pace, you see a technology centric at the middle. And that’s what drives it forward. That’s what drives a lot of these great projects. I mean, it’s one of the things that if you look at different open source projects and you say, okay, why is one successful versus not? And it usually comes down to the quality of the space, the quality of the code and things like that and then also the ecosystem around it. And I think with Zowe, we’ve kind of been able to figure out both of those pieces relatively well and it’s setting us up an area to be successful. 

And I think it’s also been a really healthy exercise for the mainframe community to kind of just go through and learn that. And now we’ve seen projects like GenevaERS and the COBOL programming course, that both have just recently graduated. And we’ve seen some of the other newer projects that are coming in that’s more in an incubating stage and they look at Zowe and they look at sort of the road they paved in the mainframe world and it’s sort of given them a sense of this is how we could move forward. This is how we could make this work.

Steven Dickens: So, John, we’ve covered the open mainframe project, we’ve covered Zowe, we’ve covered open source. I said I’d go back to Star Wars [crosstalk]-

John Mertic: Knew this was coming, dang it. 

Steven Dickens: So, we’re going to take a couple of minutes as a commercial break and lighten the mood. Men of our age are Star Wars fans-

John Mertic: Sure we are.

Steven Dickens: By birth rite, I think. I know the story of what you do for that world, but give our listeners just a brief insight into what you do in the other parts of your day job and how you work with the Academy arts guys and those guys, because I think it’s just fascinating for our listeners. So, just indulge me with a bit of talk about special effects and Star Wars for a moment. 

John Mertic: I can certainly do that. And this was a project I have been very fortunate to be part of. So, the project is called the Academy Software Foundation. It was actually launched at the same time as Zowe, ironically, in 2018. And it came together as that industry, which many people don’t realize… Well, many people don’t realize two things. One is that the top 100 grossing movies in Hollywood of all time all had some degree of visual effects in them. You have to go down to… And this has been a couple of years and so these numbers move around, but you had to go down to somewhere in the high hundreds, at least this was a couple of years ago, could have changed, to actually find the first one that doesn’t. As a trivia question, if you’re ever wanting to quiz somebody, the name of that movie is Mamma Mia. It shows to their visual effects are a cornerstone of movies. They also and many times have been very expensive and that’s where you’ve seen a lot of technology developments that have happened over the decades within that industry. 

Interestingly enough, there’s plenty of that that’s actually open source. And many of the key studios and vendors and other players in the space have been building open source for a long time. The challenge that they were running into was being able to collaboration across a number of these vendors. Because some of these projects, which were very heavily depended upon in the industry, they were just hard for people to get involved and contribute to and vendors to invest in and things like that. OpenEXR is a great one, a great example. That huge EXR is an image format. And it’s a technology that’s dependent on in just about all sorts of media, even outside of film. OpenVDB is a technology that the best way I can describe it is if you’re watching a movie and you see an explosion that’s simulated, it’s because of OpenVDB. That’s kind of the best way that I can do it.

Even a project like OpenColorIO, which focuses on color matching and things like that, OpenTimeline, anyways. I could go on and on on that. MaterialX however is the one very much directed to Star Wars because many of the scenes that were drawn and built, especially in the final three movies, the final trequel, were actually built using MaterialX.

So, I got involved in that group there as they were really trying to wrestle with how do we pull this together, how do we get more people involved. And how do we get studios collaborating across and that’s really where that whole Foundation was formed. And it’s done a lot of amazing work of pulling that together. Right now I think they have about seven or eight projects at the moment and most of them are actually existing projects, one was a brand net new one. But all of them have experienced significant growth moving into a vendor neutral setting. 

And I guess your listeners at home, what I mean by vendor neutral is, as opposed to like an open source project that’s maybe, say you’re an employer and I’m being facetious on here. Futurum decides, hey, I have some open source code. I’m going to open a Futurum, GitHub, I’m going to put it out there and that’s my project. Futurum owns that code. They are putting it out there in an open source license, but effectively they’re the owners of it. 

When we talk vendor neutral, we mean, simple level, Futurum isn’t the full owner, but you have multiple different constituents that are contributing to this. The overall sort of assets and trademarks and namings like that that are owned by a sort of a third party holding entity, in this case, it’s Linux Foundation. But the model that they use there is, as people contribute code, they effectively own the pieces of code they contribute. You don’t sign over your IP. You don’t sign over your copyright. You don’t give them a license. 

So it creates this intertwined sort of piece here which has a couple of nice advantages. One, it’s a lower barrier for people who contribute because going to your company and saying, hey, I need you to sign off my IP to somebody else is going to get a lot of legal eyebrows. But more importantly, it also adds assurance that that upstream project can’t change its license unless all of the contributors agree to it. 

So, that adds a bit of control there that the community as a whole is in control of where it goes, not the one vendor. And that’s when we start to talk about vendor neutral. The Linux Kernel has worked this way for decades. If you contribute a line to the Linux Kernel, congratulations, you have your copyright in it. If you contribute a line to Kubernetes, congratulations, you have a small little ownership in it. Same actually with Zowe, you contribute a line of code to Zowe, congratulations, you have your ownership in it. 

So, that sort of model there, really ensures that a project can grow beyond just the scope of one vendor. It can grow broader and it can actually build ecosystems and stuff with it. That’s something, we have seen that industry really, really strongly embrace and now that industry, as it’s kind of turning forward and looking at what are the new ways that media’s going to be driven and consumed, things like virtual production, 3D, 4D immersive. All of these sorts of things are starting to come to light and many of those technologies are all driven through open source and if we take that same parallel across a lot of different industries, it works really well in the vendor neutral sense, because it gives everyone a base, they can all trust on, they don’t have to worry about somebody pulling the rug out from underneath them and it really helps move technology forward.

Steven Dickens: I think that’s a whole other podcast where we spend time talking about explosions in Star Wars movies-

John Mertic: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Steven Dickens: But I’m conscious of time and I’ve got to get us back to regularly scheduled programing. But I think it was really useful there to take us out of the mainframe specific world for a moment and look at the same challenge around how people collaborate around coding in a vendor neutral way. 

John Mertic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steven Dickens: Explaining something that everybody can get their heads around. Three studios collaborating on what explosions look like in movies. We can take ourselves and understand that and then translate that back to the mainframe space.

So, I’ve got to start to bring this home here. Couple of questions I was asked towards the end of this, John, and I’m really interested for your answers. You get to go back to John Mertic, age sort of 22, you’re fresh out of college, you’re still wearing those funky t-shirts and have got the sideburns and you probably knowing you look exactly the same as you did back then. What advice would you be giving to your younger self? You’ve got the experience and wisdom, but you’ve also now got the opportunity to go back and speak to that 22 year old John Mertic and give that person some advice. So what would that be?

John Mertic: Besides invest in masks and Google?

Steven Dickens: Yeah. Buy some Bitcoin circa 2009 maybe. Yeah. Apart from investing advice.

John Mertic: Yes, yes. I think the one thing I would definitely tell myself is this whole path through technology and your career is a journey. You don’t know where it’s going to end up. I’ve always had a passion in this space, but I couldn’t have said, back in 2001, when after I walked off the stage at Penn State University and got my diploma that I would be a leader within the mainframe space. If somebody would have told me that, I’d be like, okay, maybe, I guess. I wouldn’t have bought that. 

And I often tell this to people even as they’re thinking about their career, your career, sometimes it’s a little bit of a winding road and you just see opportunities along the way and you kind of have to trust your gut and sort of believe in those and move forward. And so I guess I tell myself to just embrace that and not be fearful of that because these sort of cool opportunities, when they come to you, you sort of know when those are happening and to take advantage of them. 

I would really kind of focus on that and just enjoy the ride with it because you can look back and you can tell a lot of the good stories and things like that but it’s so important to enjoy those in the moment. And enjoy when those things happen. That’s just even more than your career. That’s just personal life as well. Live in the moment and enjoy that in the moment. 

Tried to do a good job of it. Obviously I’ve not done an amazing job in a lot of cases but I would really reinforce that with myself. 

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I think that’s solid advice. And then my final question for you, John, and I could carry on talking for hours here. We’d spend a lot more time in those hours talking about explosions and Star Wars movies than we would mainframe, but I’ve got to bring us home here. I think you’ve got a unique perspective on where the mainframe is, its role in the world. Where do you see the mainframe three, five years out from now?

John Mertic: Well, contrary to Stewart Alsop, it’s still going to be here. 

Steven Dickens: You’re not going to make him eat those words. 

John Mertic: He’s already done it once, I mean, no… Anyways. So, I take my Brian Windhorst stand with these things as I do not like to make predictions. What I will say is, as I’ve looked at the trends that have happened, just in the six years, if I look at the trends in the last six years of this project. When I got involved in it, there is definitely a sense of we’re trying things new, we’re trying to branch out. In the general mainframe populous, I think there is still a little bit of a very unappreciated view of who mainframers are and what the value they have, which this podcast here has done an amazing job of showcasing. It has really brought out those stories so that people can realize, this is a for real thing. This is a thing that is something you can spend your time in, spend your career in and walk out very happily.

If I keep looking out more years from now, I’m anticipating those convergences to keep growing stronger. Open Mainframe Summit, which is ahead of us as we record, but I’m sure when this goes live, will be in our rear view mirror. We very purposely selected key note speakers that were one rung outside of the mainframe sphere. We picked someone from edge computing. We pulled someone from the contiguous delivery cloud, coordinated delivery space. The open source and finance, open cultures and things like that. 

And what I’m sensing to see is that… The thing that I always toss out there is, forward thinking enterprises are thinking about their infrastructure in a hybrid way. They don’t buy from one vendor. This isn’t the ’70s or ’80s where you wait for the IBM rep to show up and he has this whole whole thing and you buy whatever he tells you to. Okay. And that’s not to disparage IBM, but you have more choices. Like the joke we used to have is we live in an era where it’s like the Cheesecake Factory of computing choices that we have. There’s just like a never ending menu with steak and pasta and everything you can imagine and enterprises put that together in a unique way so they can engage their customers better. They can do business better. 

And I think now we’re seeing mainframes start to get so much back in that conversation that we’re only going to see that grow. We’re only going to see that become more prominent out there. And we’re going to see mainframe coming from this. What is it? It’s an afterthought. Oh, it’s something my grandpa used to work on. To, hey this is something that, if we as a business have it, we’re going to be investing more into it, because there’s a lot of valuable insights we can gain from that but we are also seeing it as an execution engine for growth. So we’re seeing this as a way of wow, we have this infrastructure here, how can we invest more into it, to do all those things, better engage our customers, better be efficient internally, have that as a unique differentiator.

Wouldn’t it be a sort of a cool thing in like three to five years and saying a company raising their hand up and saying, I bought a mainframe and I am proud of it, not proud of it, it kind of sounds weird. But I’m buying this and this is keeping me ahead of my customers because of buying that. And not that, again, I’m going away from the soothsayer. I employ my Brian Windhorst card here, but I am seeing the trends are heading that direction and I would see that continue to flow.

Steven Dickens: Yeah, I would agree. John, this has been a fantastic conversation. You’ve been an awesome guest. Thank you for coming on the show.

John Mertic:  Thank you for inviting me.

Steven Dickens: It’s only taken me six years, but we got there eventually.

John Mertic: No, I could only dodge your request for so long I suppose, right.

Steven Dickens: It’s been said many times-

John Mertic: You’ve interviewed every other really good person in mainframe and you were left with me. 

Steven Dickens: Yes, this was the bottom of the barrel.

John Mertic: Yeah.

Steven Dickens: Joking aside, John. This has been fantastic. You’ve been an awesome guest. You’ve been listening to the I’m a Mainframer podcast, bought to you by the Linux Foundations Open Mainframe Project. If you like what you’ve heard today, please click and subscribe. I’d love a five star rating. It’s good for the algorithm, so please do that. And check back next time when we’ll be coming to you again with another fantastic guest. Thank you for joining me and we’ll speak to you soon.